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The links among parents, kids and runaway stress

We live in a sometimes-crazy world that moves at lightning speed. We all know what stress feels like. I felt more than a tinge of it in reaching my deadline for this article. Stress is hard-wired within us as the body’s response in the face of danger. It is the instinct that helped our ancient ancestors cope with a hazardous world.

We know that even intense short-term stress is not necessarily a bad thing and not likely to cause major health concerns. When it becomes long-term or chronic stress, now that’s a different story. It can usher in numerous negative health effects and be a plague on a person’s life.

Today, chronic stress has become a problem of epidemic proportion in this country — for people of all genders and ages.

The clinical community continues to warn us about the health risks chronic stress can bring. It is worth recounting a few of the risks.

Stress is a hormonal response from the body and can lead to inflammation. It can overburden your mind with never-ending worries. It can make your digestive system go haywire. It can weaken your immune system and be bad for your heart.

According to Healthline, if you have a family member with overactive stress responses, you may experience chronic stress, too. Chronic stress can also be a gateway to anxiety and depression. Left untreated, anxiety and depression can lead to even more serious health complications.

Given all the negative results that long-term stress can have on your health, it is important to make relieving stress a priority.Research shows that people who manage stress well tend to live longer and healthier lives. Aside from diet, exercise and relaxation techniques, there are also doctor-recommended medications and therapies for treating stress.

Stress can prompt feelings of anger, nervousness and anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the U.S. Forty million adults in the United States are affected.

While it is highly treatable, less than 37 percent of those suffering from anxiety disorder are said to receive treatment for it. This can lead to depression. Statistics also show that in a given year, an estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States have had at least one major depressive episode.

At a time when the incidence of clinical depression among adults continues to be on the rise, we are now learning that schools are reporting more and more children who seem unable to meet the basic demands of sitting, paying attention and controlling themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes mental disorders among children as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave or handle their emotions, causing distress and problems getting through the day.

According to CDC statistics, approximately 4.5 million children in this country ages 3 to 17 have a diagnosed behavior problem. Approximately 4.4 million have diagnosed anxiety, and just under 2 million have diagnosed depression.

Richard O’Connor, a practicing psychotherapist specializing in depression disorders and stress, writes in Psych Central that almost 20 percent of the population meets the criteria for some form of depression.

“Often when a child is in trouble, parents are depressed,” he writes. “Though the parents often feel that the child’s behavior is the source of their distress, in fact often the child is reacting to the parent’s depression.”

Childhood depression and adult depression have some of the same signs, including changes in mood, such as sadness, increased tearfulness, decreased energy level and difficulty concentrating. But there are differences. Many children, instead of experiencing increased sadness, show heightened irritability, anger or hostility, resulting in blow-ups at home. Growing up can be hard, and these blow-ups can be misinterpreted.

As a U.S. News report points out, childhood depression is a serious mental health condition often overlooked because childhood is already characterized by emotional shifts and intense feelings. We expect kids to experience some conflict and struggle as they learn and grow. Parents generally are not conditioned to look for signs of a major depressive episode in young children. More attention needs to be focused on developing new ways to provide entire families with therapeutic care and support.

As pointed out by U.S. News, some might find it difficult to believe that kids consider suicide. But when children verbalize that they feel like their lives aren’t worth living or they want to harm themselves, parents need to listen and seek immediate assistance. According to the CDC, in 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans ages 10 and older died by suicide.

External factors also cannot be ignored. Scientists are now trying to understand how green spaces — or lack thereof — affect mental health.

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA details a large investigation of the association between green spaces and mental health. For this study, researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark compared the risk of developing 16 different mental health disorders in adulthood with how much green space surrounded each child’s residence. They found growing up near green space was associated with a lower risk of developing psychiatric illness in adulthood — by anywhere from 15 percent to 55 percent.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness.

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